Today I had a revelation: software, as good as some of it is, doesn’t have much to do with productivity, which is the fruit of organization. Software allows implementation of systems, which are where organization lives.
I have been dual-booting Ubuntu Linux and Windows XP Pro, thinking about Web 2.0 and XML, and learning about Getting Things Done (GTD). And in the process, really thinking a lot about how I store, manipulate, and use data.
And I realized that as much as I like Outlook, I can do the same thing in Gmail/GCal, Thunderbird with Lightning, Time Matters, or a stack of index cards. Likewise, Word is great, but all you really need is Notepad. I’m not into full-on GTD, but I understand the concept, which I arrived at in my own way in my quest to free myself from platform-dependence and complex solutions to simple problems.
So if the key to productivity is organization, what is the key to organization? A trusted system to store to-dos, appointments, ideas, etc. That’s a very GTD thing to say. But what should your system be? Whatever works for you. A stack of index cards, Outlook, a Palm, a moleskine, or whatever you need to keep track of information and projects and free your mind to do work, not think about work.
In the midst of my musings, I realized that anything that ties me to one way of doing things–whether that is Outlook keeping me in Windows or a notepad I could lose–is dangerous. The key is to free the junk floating around in our heads as much as possible. That is what I was doing when I switched from POP to IMAP for e-mail, freeing myself from any one operating system, e-mail client, or computer. That is why I ditched Time Matters as a document organizer and used folders, dates, and filenames on my filesystem, instead.
And now that I have “freed” my e-mail and documents at least partially, I am trying to find ways to do the same with my due dates, to-dos, and appointments. Stay tuned while I search for a solution, and please share yours, if you have one.